Good Samaritan or Lou Dobbs worse nightmare?
Last year, agents arrested 317,696 people. While the vast majority “voluntarily returned” to Mexico, about 17 percent were classified as “serious criminals” because of prior convictions or bench warrants that require detention, according to figures provided by Scioli. About 22 percent of those arrested were funneled into one of the agency’s alternative prosecution programs, including one that repatriates Mexican nationals after up to 180 days in jail in the U.S.
The agency does not keep statistics on how many of the arrested individuals lacked paperwork to justify their presence on U.S. soil, he said.
“They are all here illegally. They all come across illegally, and our job is to make the arrest on every person who is here without the proper documentation to be here legally,” said Scioli, the sector public affairs spokesman. “So whatever the charge … they are all arrested for illegal entry.”
Agents use a combination of infrastructure, technology and manpower to get the job done, he said. Scioli makes the case that the border policies are working. The arrest rate in his sector was down 20 percent in 2008, for example. But the frequency of assaults on agents and the amount of drugs seized is climbing.
“We are looking at a brand-new criminal element that is coming across. This is not just mom and dad and kids looking for a better life,” he said, noting that just last month a group of drug smugglers shot at agents with automatic weapons as they drove two vehicles laden with marijuana over the border.
The face of reform
Even advocates for immigration reform disagree over what it should look like. Hoover advocates for major revisions that would allow more workers to enter legally, but would require them to post a bond and only stay for limited durations. Another southern Arizona-based group called Border Action Network devotes all its time to policy advocacy for policies that better preserve human rights.
According to a United Nations report issued last year, the United States has more migrants living inside its borders than any other country. But the country is dangerously constraining human rights, wrote Jorge Bustamante, U.N. special rapporteur on migrants.
“The United States has failed to adhere to its international obligations to make the human rights of the 37.5 million migrants living in the country … a national priority,” he wrote.
Filmmaker Juan Carlos Frey, who gave a sneak preview of a documentary he is making about the topic at the border fair last month in Sahuarita, said officials he has interviewed don’t seem to want to understand the root of the issue.
“Every time I brought up illegal immigration and human rights in the same sentence, you’d think there was the greatest view out the window,” he said. “Human rights are the rule of law, and if a country can convince itself that it does not need recognize human rights, we are basically turning our backs on our own law.”
President Barack Obama’s promised immigration reform has yet to materialize, but the agenda he posted on the White House Web site says he aims to “fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill,” as well as promoting economic development in Mexico.
Department of Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano, the former Arizona governor, told lower-level department officials a few days after Obama’s inauguration that she wants an assessment of current programs, measures of success and suggestions for reform where needed on her desk by the end of this week.